Showing posts with label #Evangelism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Evangelism. Show all posts

Sealing the deal. Or not.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 February

Most of the evangelism seminars, classes, and books I’ve read, insist our every conversation with people about the gospel, has to end with a decision. They’ve heard the gospel, and either they believe it or they don’t; either they wanna follow Jesus or they don’t; so get an answer. Have ’em make a decision now. Right now! DO IT!

Which is why that’s what I’ve experienced whenever I’ve been on evangelism teams: The high-pressure tactics of proselytizers.

And a whole lot of cringing pagans, who don’t wanna make a decision right now. They gotta think about it! They need time to process. Really, they need time for the Holy Spirit to work on ’em—which is exactly what he’s gonna do. Heck, some of them might have already decided, “No thank you,” but of course the Spirit doesn’t like that answer, so he’s gonna get ’em to realize it was the wrong one, and convince ’em to change their minds. And that takes time. And patience.

Patience which the Spirit has in abundance. Evangelists, not so much.

Hence all our demands for an immediate decision: Let today be the day of your salvation! Don’t put it off till tomorrow; you never know what might happen in the meanwhile; you could die later this afternoon, and wind up in hell! You know, deep down, the gospel is true, and Jesus is the right choice, so quit waffling and choose Jesus! Don’t leave him hanging! Don’t be an ingrate; he died for you! Et cetera, ad nauseam.

Because the evangelists tell us it’s not a successful conversation unless it ends in conversion. And we as evangelists aren’t doing our job unless we seal the deal—to borrow a term from sales. They gotta decide right now: Jesus or hell. There’s no “Can I think about it and decide later?”—that’s just a decision for hell disguised as procrastination. It’s really Jesus or hell.

And if they choose Jesus, the angels will rejoice. Lk 15.10 And if hell, they’re doomed.

But because evangelists expect immediate decisions, whenever they actually bother to take statistics, they find their success rate is extremely low. Even anecdotally, they’ll figure maybe one in 20 will choose Jesus. The actual rate is much lower—and of those people who choose Jesus, about 90 percent of ’em don’t bother to start praying regularly, start reading bible, start going to church, start anything. They’ve not changed at all. Really, they have to be led to Jesus all over again.

So what are we doing wrong? Lots of things.

“The deal” doesn’t make anyone Christian.

This focus on getting people make a definite initial decision for Christ Jesus: Way too many of our efforts are placed on this. In some evangelism ministries, all of it is placed on this. They only want decisions for Jesus; they wanna rack up those numbers, and (according to popular Christian culture, ’cause people are thinking of medieval European crowns, not the leafy ones given at sporting events in New Testament times) get more jewels for the crowns Jesus is eventually gonna give us. Rv 2.10

The rate of recidivism—the vast number of “decisions” which decay into nothing—indicates people don’t really believe the sinner’s prayer when they say it. So why’re they saying it?

  • Heat of emotion. But once the emotions pass, so does their interest in Jesus.
  • False gospel: The evangelist, so desperate to seal the deal, promised ’em outrageous things about Jesus which aren’t so. The would-be convert either comes to realize all these false promises are bunk; or tries them out (“I asked Jesus for a million dollars, but I haven’t seen a dime yet!”), finds them false, and figures the whole of Christianity must be false too.
  • Peer pressure: Their family and friends are pushing them to convert, or have all come forward and said the sinner’s prayer, and they don’t wanna be the only one who hasn’t.
  • Evangelist pressure: “Hey buddy, I’ll say whatever you want; just leave me alone.”

So obviously the sinner’s prayer isn’t enough. Neither is simply saying “Jesus is Lord” Ro 10.9 when he’s never really gonna become our Lord. Neither is raising a hand or nodding one’s head when the pastor calls for it after a sermon. Momentary affirmations, followed up by nothing, mean nothing.

Conversion is a lifestyle. Really, it’s the Christian lifestyle. We live an entire lifestyle of repentance, of realizing we’re wrong and Jesus is right, of adapting our lives to his teachings. That’s what people have to realize they’re getting into, and if our gospel message doesn’t tell them this, we’re doing it wrong. Because if all they think it takes to become Christian is to say the magic words and hocus pocus we’re Christian, it certainly explains all the pagans who believe they’re Christian.

Evangelism isn’t a quick-’n-dirty 15-minute process. We start by finding people who are actually curious about and interested in the gospel. We share the good news about Jesus and his kingdom, and we see whether people are interested in investigating further. Then we help ’em investigate. We help ’em find a church, get ’em into a newbies class or bible study or anything where they can ask questions and get useful answers. This is, after all, what Jesus instructs us to do: Make disciples. Mt 28.19-20 Not converts. He wants more students. A convert only wants to be Christian—for now—but isn’t Christian yet. A student of Jesus is Christian.

Yep, evangelism’s a longer job than you thought.

Clearly, bringing people to Jesus takes time and work. Not that pressuring people into a decision isn’t work, but this is a whole different kind of work: We’re looking for people who show definite interest in Jesus, instead of finding a bunch of randoms who show no interest and we make ’em interested.

Yeah, it takes time to find such people. We gotta share the gospel with a whole lot of people before the truly curious come out. But in my experience, when we share the actual gospel—not the “you’re going to hell lest you repent” story which dark Christians love so much, nor the “Jesus will make you rich” prosperity gospel, nor the “free salvation, no strings attached” rubbish so popular with fly-by-night evangelists—we’re gonna find a lot of interest. People really haven’t heard the actual gospel; they’re more familiar with the bent versions, and rightly find ’em alienating. The good news actually sounds kinda good!

In sales-pitch evangelism, once the deal is sealed, we’re pretty much done; follow-up is for other suckers, and it’s their fault, not ours, if they drop the ball. In proper evangelism, evangelism and follow-up are not two different things. Our job isn’t done till the newbies are in church, getting their questions answered, developing relationships with fellow Christians, getting committed enough to Jesus to want baptism and to become church members. Sometimes not even then.

And I admit, sometimes the results are disappointing. I’ve had people go to church for a month or two, then lose interest and quit. Life got in the way, they claim; things got “too busy.” Which are just lame excuses. When we’re serious enough about something, we’ll make the time for it. In all honesty, they tried Christianity out a little, and decided it wasn’t for them. Sad. But it happens.

Look, when you came to Jesus, was it the result of a quick and near-instant conversion? Or was it a long process which took months, even years? Surveys tell us three in 10 Christians had those sudden conversions to Jesus—followed of course by several months of follow-up. But four of those 10 gradually came to the conclusion Jesus is Lord and they oughta follow him. And the rest grew up Christian. So that means most of us took the long way to get to Jesus. Yeah, the dramatic conversion story makes for exciting testimonies. But it’s not the typical Christian testimony.

Look, if someone wants Jesus right now, says the sinner’s prayer and means it, and from that point onward is the most enthusiastic new believer ever, don’t stop it from happening! It’s always fun to watch. Just make sure they’re with fellow Christians who steer ’em right. But our usual expectation should be the long process, which begins with curiosity and ends with salvation.

And during this process—not necessarily at the beginning, nor the end—the Holy Spirit seals the deal. Not us; it’s never our deal to seal. It’s his.

So get away from this mindset of sealing a deal, making a sale, forcing results, cornering people who are trying to escape; just don’t. Share Jesus, and if people are interested, bring ’em to church. If they’re not, don’t sweat it; shake off their dust and move along.

It’s just that simple… and complicated. Real life is messy, you know. So is real evangelism.

Tracts: How to share Jesus with handouts.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 February
TRACT trækt noun. Short written work in pamphlet form, typically on a religious subject.

By “tract” I mean any booklet, broadside, brochure, card, handout, invitation, flyer, pamphlet, or poster, which introduces the gospel to people. And there’s nothing wrong with using ’em to share Jesus.

Certain Christians object to tracts. Commonly because of the contents of the tracts themselves. I’ve seen plenty which are ridiculous, inaccurate, or even offensive. I certainly don’t wanna hand out those types of tracts; I don’t wanna be associated with foolishness, error, and slander, or make people think Christ Jesus has anything to do with such things. Plenty enough of that in Christendom as it is.

One argument I’ve heard against tracts, is they’re impersonal. These folks claim the way to share Jesus is to make personal connections with fellow human beings, then introduce them to the person of Jesus. But a tract does no such thing. It kinda reduces a living relationship with our awesome Lord… to an advertisement.

These are valid concerns, so I’ll deal with ’em.

Ridiculous tracts.

There are a lot of stupid tracts out there. No, seriously, a lot of them. Certain Christians think that’s the way to get people to read ’em: Be funny, be silly, or be shocking.

But not every tract-writer has a good sense of humor, and the end result is a groan-worthy tract which isn’t funny, or full of stale and overworked jokes, or makes light of all the parts we probably shouldn’t trivialize. Or they try to use wordplay and sarcasm, but they do it in a way where only they seem to get the joke, and everybody else who reads it is simply confused.

And not every tract-writer knows how to make a good-looking tract. They can’t spell, or have poor grammar. They can’t design, so the text is too small or too large, or they put it on top of an image… but it’s nearly the same color, so you can barely read it. They can’t draw, so the images are childish. Or they pulled their images off the internet… and didn’t pay for them, so you can still see the watermark in all the photos. And of course they don’t know how to resize the images, so they’re all stretched and squashed.

Sometimes it’s much worse. Dark Christians love to make tracts, and of course they don’t present the good news; it’s all bad news. It’s all about how we’re dirty sinners, going to hell, and nothing can save us but the sinner’s prayer. It’s not about speaking the truth in love; Ep 4.15 they really don’t have love to give.

Many a dark Christian tract begins by bashing something. Certain sins which offend ’em, Hollywood and the media, politics, other religions, even fellow Christians who worship too differently. While this sort of tract definitely appeals to dark Christians, it’s wholly inappropriate for sharing Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of sin. Jn 16.8 Not ours. He convicts ’em in the right way—in a kind way. Whereas dark Christians don’t do kindness either.

Trendy tracts—cards with a pop star or images from a movie or TV show on the front, and the gospel on the back—become out-of-date awfully fast. (Especially since the tract-makers are usually behind the times anyway.) Unless you evangelize teenagers, or parents of teenagers, the percentage of people who are actually up on the latest trends is quite small. I don’t bother with trendy tracts either.

And let’s not forget the deceptive tracts. There’s a tract I came across which, no foolin’, looks like a folded $100 bill. People grab it because they think it’s money, and surprise!—not only isn’t it, but it rebukes you for desiring something as fleeting as money, when you can have eternal life with Jesus. You do realize there are evil people out there who will try to give these tracts instead of tips, and think they’re being righteous. Don’t encourage such behavior.

Don’t use bad tracts. Pick ’em carefully. I prefer any tract which presents the gospel in a straightforward way. I don’t wanna waste people’s time with provocative tracts—with something which appears to be about one thing, and surprise!—it’s religious material. I’ve seen pagans straight-up flinch at such things, and throw them away in disgust. I don’t want that reaction. I want it nice and obvious, on the cover, what this is—because many people will throw out handouts unread, and if I’ve wasted the cover on a hook instead of the gospel, more fool me.

An impersonal handout?

When someone on the street hands me a flyer, I glance at it. I keep it if it seems interesting, and put it in the trash if it doesn’t. Most of the time that’s exactly what people do with a tract. Most of the tracts you hand out will do nothing. Same as any advertising.

In a Christian-majority country, you’re gonna give a lot of tracts to people who already consider themselves Christian. They’ll throw ’em out because they figure they’re good. The rest of the folks: Most don’t care about religion at all, and don’t care to be converted. A small percentage will actually bother to read your tract. A much smaller percentage might allow themselves to be affected by them.

So lots of folks justify tract-passing for this very reason: If they hand out a thousand tracts, and one person comes to Jesus, it’s worth it. And okay, I can’t disagree with that. One person’s eternal life is worth a billion tracts.

But still: Isn’t there anything we can do to improve these statistics any?

And of course there is: Make it personal. When you stand on the street handing out flyers, engage people. If they’re not trying to rush past you, see if you can stop ’em briefly and say, “Do you have a minute?—can I share something with you?” Then share the tract with them. Read it to them. Or, if you have it memorized, tell them the story as they read the flyer. Give them some actual human contact to associate with your tract. Give ’em an experience they can connect with, rather than just a handout which they may or may not read.

If you find out they’re already Christian, see if you can get ’em to pass the tract forward to someone else. If they’re not interested, then okay they’re not interested; you did your job and shared.

But that’s how you improve a tract’s effectiveness. And improve your effectiveness as an evangelist, for that matter.

Free tract!

If you’re wondering, “What’s an example of a good tract?” here’s one I’ve used quite a lot—and not just ’cause I used to work at the ministry which makes ’em. It’s a pamphlet produced by Barnabas Missions Unlimited called “Our Spiritual Journey Together.”

It’s set up so that you can print it on both sides of a sheet of paper, cut it in half, and fold it. You can download the PDF free, in English or Spanish, put your church’s name on the back, and distribute as many as you like. There are directions on their site on how to present it in greater detail at Barnabas Missions’ website.

Likely you’ve seen other good tracts. Most “Four Spiritual Laws” tracts or “Romans Road” tracts are good; and of course there’s no reason you can’t create your own. In fact, if you have created your own, let me know so I can put it on a resource page.

Evangelism… in a “Christian nation.”

by K.W. Leslie, 06 February

There’s a myth going round the United States that we Christians are a tiny, oppressed minority, shrinking all the time thanks to the insidious forces of paganism and nontheism in our secular culture.

It’s rubbish. And I know; Christians don’t wanna believe it’s rubbish. A lot of us are deeply invested in the idea the world’s only getting worse… and they believe Jesus will intervene once it’s the worst it can be. (Whereas I don’t believe he’s forced to wait for us to get depraved enough; he’ll return whenever he wants.) But statistics don’t confirm their deeply-held beliefs. True, the percentage of Americans who identify as Christian is going down. The Pew Research Center pegged it at 65 percent in 2019. But that’s just pagans who believed themselves Christian, recognizing they’re really not. They’re coming out of the closet.

As for me, I share Jesus with people, like every Christian should. Most often by chatting with strangers in coffeehouses, but sometimes I’ve gone door to door. You wanna find out how truly secular your community is, try tabulating them like a census worker: Go from house to house, and meet ’em where they live. What you’ll find out is Christians are hardly a minority. We’re the vast, overwhelming majority.

Some towns are more pagan than others. In more devout towns, 99 out of 100 figure they’re Christian. In more pagan cities (i.e. San Francisco or Portland), it’s still more than half. On average I’ve found two out of three identify as Christian… so yeah, about the same as the Pew Center’s findings.

So when you go forth and share Jesus with people, you’re largely gonna find they know him already. Or at least think they do.

Those who think they do.

’Cause a lot of self-described Christians aren’t all that Christian. They don’t go to church, and don’t figure they have to. They can’t tell you the last time they read a bible. They say grace on Thanksgiving, but otherwise don’t pray unless they really want something. They might do something religious on Easter or Christmas. That’s about it. They’re the I-got-baptized-and-that-counts kind of Christians.

So if you’ve ever wondered why American culture looks so pagan, despite all our professed Christians: We’re more Christianist. Our so-called Christians are irreligious and apathetic.

Yeah, when you put their backs to the wall (as dark Christians imagine will happen to us all someday), they’ll probably declare Christ. If they were gonna quit Jesus entirely and become something else, they would’ve done so by now. They didn’t. They choose a comatose sort of Christianity, but it’s still technically Christianity, and still something the Holy Spirit can work with.

This being the case, sharing Jesus within the United States is quite different than sharing him in non-Christian countries. Our job isn’t so much to introduce him to people. It’s to shake ’em awake. It’s to correct their distorted views of the gospel. It’s to get people to stop taking Jesus for granted.

That’s what I bear in mind when I do evangelism. A lot of folks will say, “I’m a Christian,” and I respond, “Good! Where do you go to church?… And how often do you go? weekly, monthly, twice a year?—does your pastor know you?”

Which some of them will take offense at, and say I’m prying. (Which is precisely what I’m doing.) Really they don’t go to church; they’re just telling me they do. They hope by identifying a church that’s “theirs,” I’ll assume they’re practicing, churchgoing Christians, and move along. But I make no such assumptions, and now I’m asking questions which might expose their hypocrisy—and that’s why they’re offended.

I also respond, “Do you pray?… How regularly?” And “Do you read your bible?” And “Has God ever done a miracle for you?” I’m trying to gauge just how Christian they are: Do they have a living, active relationship with Christ, or are they just Christianist? And again, some take offense at this. “I just told you I’m a Christian,” one annoyed man once told me. “I know,” I told him. “But you know how Christ said ‘By their fruits you’ll know them’? Mt 7.20 I’m bobbing for fruit.”

Yeah, sometimes people are bugged by my questions because they’ve encountered evangelists from the faith-righteousness camp: Like independent Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, they think we’re saved by correct theology, not grace. Evangelists from those churches always wanna submit people to an orthodoxy test, and make sure people are saved before they move on. They’re not looking for fruit though. In fact a lot of ’em lack fruit themselves. So they tend to come across as jerks. My not-all-that-probing questions might remind people of their questions, and it may make ’em worry I’m another one of those jerks.

But more often it’s because they feel guilty. I’m trying to see how Christian they are, and they know they’re not Christian at all. I’m not trying to convict them, but their own consciences are making ’em squirm.

We’re here to help!

We need to accept Christ Jesus as our lord and savior, and start following him. That’s the usual spiel most evangelists make. It’s absolutely true… for pagans. You wanna be Christian, that’s what you do. But when we’re evangelizing Americans who figure they’re Christian already, they don’t need to re-accept Jesus: They need to follow him!

And they suck at doing it alone. They need help in following him. So that’s our mission: We gotta help.

They suck at prayer. Fine; help them pray. Invite them to your prayer group. Ask ’em what they need, and pray for it. Demonstrate good prayer practices. Encourage. Remind. And so on.

They suck at bible-reading. Fine; invite ’em to your bible study. Go through the bible together. Talk about it. Share. Discuss.

They don’t know any fellow Christians. Fine; invite them to your small group. (Not your church’s worship services; that’s how you worship together, not how you meet people. They should go to that too, but meet their expressed needs first.) Invite them to various interactive Christian functions. Or you can get to know ’em, you know—there’s always you.

They haven’t seen miracles. Fine; show them yours. Share your testimonies. Pray for them, and once God does stuff for them they’ll have their own testimonies.

They struggle with being Christian in this godless world. Well, who doesn’t? Show them they’re far from alone. Like I said, most Americans are Christian—but they’re not sharing that fact, and most Americans will be stunned to discover just how many of their neighbors, coworkers, fellow gym members, fellow coffeehouse frequenters, even random folks they run into at the supermarket, are Christian. The world isn’t as godless as they assume. Once they get to know some of their fellow Christians, they’ll see this.

Our mission is to get our fellow Christians out of their comas, and have them realize they can follow Jesus, can have his abundant life. It’s much harder than starting from the very beginning as a brand-new baby Christian. These folks are more like the moody teenagers who don’t wanna have anything to do with their parents—they’re that kind of Christian. Takes a lot of patience to get through to them. But it’s doable… and these are the neighbors God gave us to love.

Proselytism: Don’t force Jesus upon people!

by K.W. Leslie, 30 January
PROSELYTIZE 'prɑs(.ə).lət.aɪz verb. (Try to) convert someone from one belief to another.
[Proselyte 'prɑs.ə.laɪt noun, proselytism 'prɑs(.ə).lət.ɪz.əm noun.]

From time to time, when we Christians share the good news of Christ Jesus with other people, we get accused of “proselytizing.”

It’s one of those words which, to quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride

Giphy

Properly, to proselytize means as we see in the definition above: You’re trying to convert someone. And you’ve not made it an option: They must become Christian. They will become Christian. You’re gonna try every tactic you can to make it so. You’ll promise outrageous things, you’ll fudge a few details, you’ll threaten ’em with hell. Whatever it takes.

Forced conversions, hard sales pitches, and death threats (and hell threats) are all definitely forms of proselytism. Is that really what we’re doing?

Well… sometimes it is. And it should never be. God’s kingdom runs on grace, and if our presentation of the gospel ever turns into proselytism, it means we took the grace out of it. And a gospel without grace arguably isn’t even the gospel.

I know, I know: Certain dark Christians love to bring up hell. Largely because it terrifies them, so they’re pretty sure everybody needs to be warned about it, and warned away from it: You don’t want to go there! I get that. And it was probably a huge motivator for them, when they first turned to Jesus. But the result is they put it front and center when they preach the gospel, and now their gospel is about hell-avoidance instead of love, joy, grace, forgiveness, and other fruit of the Spirit that we’re gonna find in the kingdom in abundance. Worse, they don’t care about these things: “Get off that lovey-dovey crap and warn people away from hell!” Which just goes to reveal their own fruitlessness—a serious character defect which makes them the very worst people to share the gospel.

Still, when pagans encounter that kind of hostile, negative, fearmongering gospel presentation, in which the good news is very, very bad, they think it’s proselytism: It made ’em feel bad. They define proselytism based on whether it made ’em feel bad. On whether they didn’t like it.

Nope; proselytism is determined by pressure. Was the gospel forced upon you? Then it’s proselytism.

Doesn’t matter whether it was forced upon you in a hostile way or a kind way. I got the kind version: Mom was determined to raise her kids Christian, so church wasn’t optional. I was going, period, whether I wanted to or not. This was never an issue because unless I was sick or exhausted (i.e. valid excuses), I wanted to. In other families it was a huge issue: I had high school friends who absolutely didn’t wanna be there, and left church as soon as they were no longer under their parents’ rules. But parents have every right to raise their kids under their religion; really, they suck at religion if they don’t.

It’s just proselytism has a serious danger built into it: Because it’s not optional, it’s deficient in grace. Which means there’s a very real chance it’ll turn into legalism, or hypocrisy and dead religion. Or, once the kids grow up and leave the dead religion, they may presume all religion is like that… and we wind up with apostasy and nontheism.

So pour on the grace! And when you evangelize, for the love of God don’t proselytize.

Proselytizing Christians.

As I said, it’s okay to proselytize your kids. But if you were proselytized as a kid, or proselytized by an evangelist when you got older, you’re gonna wrongly think it’s okay to proselytize everybody else.

Seriously, everybody else. Certain political conservatives like to imagine the United States is a Christian nation, and as such everybody in it oughta be Christian. So they push Christianity upon everyone. We made “One nation under God” our official national motto (regardless of whether we get under him any), and put it on our money and our pledge of allegiance: If people balk at the motto, we don’t just accuse ’em of being godless, but unpatriotic.

Such people also insist we should be allowed to put up Ten Commandments monuments, crosses, and other religious iconography, in public parks, public schools, or public buildings. Texas even changed the science textbooks so they state God created the universe about 6,000 years ago, and who cares if actual science suggests otherwise.

So when we share Jesus, we don’t ask people whether they’d like to hear about him. Don’t have time for that. We just corner ’em so they can’t go anywhere, and tell ’em—whether they have the time, the curiosity, the interest, the receptivity. Because they need to hear it: They’re going to hell otherwise. Now is their hour of salvation. Now is not the time for kindness, patience, self-control, or grace. Fruit of the Spirit? Only gets in our way.

And instead of fruit, one of our substitutes becomes “evangelism.” You’ve seen these Christians at work: They leave tracts instead of tips for their waiters. They correct us in the workplace break room whenever we do or say something which isn’t Christian enough for them. They who won’t leave our front porches when we insist, “No thank you.” They’re the reason people believe evangelism and proselytism are the same thing.

Jesus doesn’t teach proselytism.

When Jesus first sent his Twelve to practice evangelism on their fellow Jews, he taught ’em to share. Not push. Bless, not condemn. Give, not collect offerings. Do for people, not demand they only receive the gospel from you, ’cause you worry if you give ’em free stuff, they’ll only turn to Jesus for the handouts. (As if the kingdom runs on stinginess, not grace.) You know, like proselytizers don’t do. Like so.

Matthew 10.7-15 KWL
7 “Preach as you go, saying this: ‘Heaven’s kingdom has come near!’
8 Serve the weak. Raise the dead. Cleanse the leprous. Throw out demons.
You received it free. Give it free.
9 Don’t accept gold, silver, or bronze into your moneybelts.
10 No bag on the road. Nor two tunics. Nor sandals. Nor cane.
For the respectable worker merits their provisions.
11 Inspect whatever city or village you enter: Who’s the most respected in it?
Stay with them till you leave, 12 and when you enter the house, bless it.
13 When the house is respectable, your blessing has to go into it.
When it’s not respectable, your blessing has to go back to you.
14 Whoever doesn’t accept you, nor listen to your words:
As you go out of their house or town, shake their dirt off your feet.
15 Amen, I promise you: It’ll be more bearable on Judgment Day
for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than that town.”

Evangelism is about effectively communicating the good news: The kingdom’s near. Jesus is its good and benevolent Lord. He wants us to join his kingdom and be our Lord. Because ultimately he will be Lord, whether we embrace him or not. It’ll be way better if we embrace his rule willingly, than live outside it in misery when he finally takes his throne. Plus there are the many benefits of living under our King early.

True, we want people to come to Jesus. But after we’ve shared him, we’re done. We did our duty. They accept him, or they don’t. And we need to stop thinking it’s our responsibility to keep pushing them to accept him. It’s not. We need to shake that off. It’s why Jesus told his apostles to do so literally: Shake the dirt off your feet when you leave. Leave ’em behind. Not because we don’t care about them anymore, but because we’re done. Hopefully God will give them another chance, as he tends to. But we’re done.

We simply share. Inform. Convey information. That’s all. There’s a place and time for going directly up to people and asking them point-blank, “Do you know Christ Jesus personally?” When our goal is to share good news, to make sure people are informed, and can make rational decisions to follow Jesus, there’s everything right about it. That’s all our job consists of.

Everything beyond that is the Holy Spirit’s job.

  • Quelling nervousness or hesitation: His job.
  • Dealing with objections and concerns: His job.
  • Getting obstacles out of their way: His job.
  • Making sure people come forward at an altar call: His job.
  • Numbers of converts: His job.
  • Making sure the commitment is serious: His job.
  • Finalizing decisions for Christ: His job.

It’s not like we have no job. But as you can see, our job isn’t as big and stressful as your average proselytizer makes it sound.

“But we have to preach the gospel!”

I’ve heard Christians say, “Well, there’s a fine line between proselytism and evangelism.” There is not. Evangelism shares information. Proselytism demands, ignores the Holy Spirit’s timing, and insists the time is now. It takes salvation into our own hands instead of leaving it in God’s. It’s loveless. It’s faithless. It’s wrong.

If a person says no thank you, proselytizers aren’t done. They don’t trust the Holy Spirit enough to leave them in his capable hands. They’re not gonna be patient. They’ll insist on “closing the deal”—on badgering them to say some form of sinner’s prayer, some sort of half-hearted commitment (which usually doesn’t pan out) just so they can put another notch on their belt. Or get another jewel in their crown. Whatever way they keep score.

’Cause that’s what it’s really about: Keeping score. Numbers. Getting converts. Growing their cults. Success rates. Which, because they’re willing to fudge the numbers a bit, tend to be reported as way higher than they really are. But few of their “success stories” are real. Those folks have no plans to follow Jesus in the day-to-day, and were often coerced into making a purely contractual relationship with him: “I said the sinner’s prayer, so I did my part; you just get me into heaven. Okay? Amen.” Don’t have to be religious ’cause they’re under God’s grace. Which means they’re fruitless… which implies they’re not under grace.

Now, had the Holy Spirit actually been involved at all—where he convicts ’em, gets ’em to repent, points ’em to Jesus—you’d see a whole lot more enthusiasm on their part. Without having to manipulate their emotions, play on their fears, promise them things Jesus never would (“Turn to him and all your problems will go away!”) and other sales pitches which spread Christianism instead of God’s kingdom.

Quite often the Spirit will actually lead someone to Jesus despite the sales-pitch tactics. But the fact the Holy Spirit cleans up our messes, is no defense for fruitless, unkind behavior and thinking.

And quite often, the reason a lot of Christians balk at practicing or learning about evangelism, is because of these yutzes and their morally questionable behavior. I don’t blame ’em for being disturbed. They should be. Any form of trickery, misdirection, wordplay, hidden flaws, false arguments, false promises, confusion, anger, hypocrisy, misquoted scriptures, false urgency, bribery, emotional blackmail, threats, temptation, or coercion, has no God in it. Justifying any of this evil, because they might “win souls,” is calling good evil, and evil good. Is 5.20 When people turn to Jesus, when the Spirit has been successful and enters their lives to fix and regenerate them, it’s a miracle. The very last thing Christians should be involved in, is faking miracles.

Some pagans have never met a proper evangelist. Or they have, but they’ve been burned by dark evangelists, and assume all Christians are like that. And to be fair, some pagans are just plain hostile towards Christianity altogether. So they accuse everyone who shares Jesus of proselytism, just to make us go away. All the more reason we need to avoid proselytism. Give them no ammunition.

So… do you know Jesus?

by K.W. Leslie, 23 January

I know better than to assume everyone who browses TXAB is Christian.

I learned better on other blogs I’ve done. ’Cause nonchristians piped up. There’s a certain personality type—the class clown, the noisy guy in the theater, the guy in the nightclub who wears way too much musk, the Facebook friend who over-comments on everything (which, I gotta admit, is sometimes me) —who can’t go anywhere without making their presence known. If you prefer to go unnoticed, these are the people you never wanna befriend; they’ll always embarrass you. And on blogs, they’re the sort who wanna make sure the blogger (i.e. me) knew they visited. Sometimes with a polite note, and sometimes by flinging poo like a chimpanzee.

On blogs, sometimes they’re the troll who comments, in case any Christians are reading, “You suckers do realize all this religious stuff is [synonym for dooky]: Jesus is dead, the bible is science fiction, and churches are scams to separate the feeble-minded from their money.” Or the guy who emails me 10 pages of out-of-context or non-sequitur “corrections” to the article I posted. Or the pagan who instant-messages me about how she’s struggling to reconcile my statements with the superficial Buddhism which she’s convinced she can practice alongside Christianity.

I get all sorts. If they’re truly interested in Jesus, I’m not gonna drive ’em away. On the contrary: I’m always gonna try to drive ’em towards. Namely towards Jesus.

Years ago I participated in a multifaith synchroblog. (A synchroblog is where a bunch of bloggers write on the same topic. Then most of us read each other’s pieces to see their take on the topic. Or not; some of us only want more people to read our blogs, and are using it to get clicks.) In my piece I stated upfront I was trying to introduce my pagan visitors to Jesus. I didn’t want any of ’em thinking I had a hidden, ulterior motive; plenty enough Christian phonies out there already. My motives are gonna be nice and obvious.

Still are. If you don’t know Jesus, let me introduce you.

Good news, everybody!

Sometimes it’s called the gospel; sometimes the evangel. Both words mean “good news”—either in ancient English or ancient Greek. ’Cause you should consider it good news. If you don’t, either we Christians did a crappy job of presenting it to you, or we taught you some other thing’s the gospel. Or you don’t believe us. Or all three.

The good news, according to Christ Jesus, is God’s kingdom has come near. Mk 1.15

What’s God’s kingdom? (Or heaven’s kingdom?—the terms are interchangeable.) In short, God wants to be our king. He wants a personal, individual relationship with every person on the planet. He wants us to be his people, and he our God. Ex 6.7 He wants us to be his children, and he our father. Yep, exactly like he’s Jesus’s father: He wants to be tight with us, same as Jesus is tight with him.

Most of us humans seriously doubt we can have any such relationship with God. Mostly ’cause we figure God’s so cosmic and alien. He’s an almighty spirit, the creator of the universe, and so absolutely good—most of us figure if we actually encountered God’s power and goodness, it’d blow us up like a hamster in a microwave. Jg 13.22 And y’know, it actually might. Ex 33.20 So we assume we’re too unworthy to interact with him, and go through a whole bunch of convolutions to get ourselves righteous before we dare approach him. Before we pray, we do a bunch of acts of penance. Or we promise a ton of good deeds. Or we vow togive up bad habits, or give up beloved things, or otherwise try to appease God first. We believe we just can’t go to him as-is. We’re too messed up.

So when Jesus tells us the kingdom has come near, what he means is we actually don’t have to bridge the gap between God and us. God already did that. He became human—namely Jesus—and lived among us humans. Jn 1.14 And they didn’t die!

Nope, God’s not distant from us. He’s right here. If you want him, here he is.

“But we’re not worthy!” Not a problem. God forgave you.

Yeah, our evildoing, our sins, mean we owe him big time: He’s had to clean up our messes, and put right what we’ve bent, folded, spindled, and mutilated. We oughta make up for our sins—and we’ve racked up so many. Really, we deserve death, for sin kills. Ro 6.23 But actually, God took care of that. After becoming human, he got killed. (Seems people couldn’t handle how he kept acting as if he’s God or something.) So—in a way we Christians still don’t entirely understand, and debate about—he applies his death to our sin, and considers our debt paid. We might still have to make things right with one another, but with God… we’re good. Having a relationship with him no longer has any hurdles.

Seriously. And it’s a fact that’s hard for lots of people to accept. Including Christians. Across the board, humanity believes in karma, the idea we only receive good (or only should receive good) if we’ve merited it with our good deeds; otherwise the universe is out of whack, and will eventually balance things out. Christians believe in karma too, and some of us still try to make ourselves worthy of God… as if that’s even possible. After a lifetime of buggering up, we’re gonna amend things with God? Not remotely possible.

That’s why we need God to do it for us. It’s where faith comes in: We gotta trust Jesus when he says God really, truly wants relationship with us. If we don’t trust Jesus, it’s our own fault when our relationships with God suck: He’s not the one with the hangups. That’d be us.

So since we can have relationships with God, he can empower us to live productive, fruitful lives. Not materially fruitful, i.e. rich, although in certain cases that’s a side effect. But spiritually fruitful: We become better people. We sin less. We’re more loving, more kind, more patient, more joyful. We can tap God’s supernatural power and perform miracles. No, really. Hang out with the right Christians and I guarantee you’ll see some.

What’s more, by taking out sin, Jesus also took out death. He proved this by himself coming back from the dead: He’s alive. Temporarily in heaven, there’s gonna be a day Jesus comes back to earth, to rule God’s kingdom in person. Not metaphorically; for real. And the day he does, every Christian, every God-follower throughout history, is getting raised from the dead just like Jesus was. 1Co 6.14 And we’re not dying again: This is eternal life.

This is the good news.

Hard to believe? Okay.

Yeah, in order to believe the gospel, there are certain things we gotta believe in the first place. Like God’s very existence: If you don’t believe in any such being, the rest will be pure myth. It’s the world’s nicest bedtime story, with the world’s biggest happy ending, but you won’t believe a word of it.

Likewise resurrection. This was the ancient Greeks’ hangup: Their philosophy, which they were steeped in since childhood, taught ’em matter is bad (it decays, y’know) and spirit is good. So when you die, you become pure spirit—and that’s good. You wanna be pure spirit. You wanna live in Elysium (the good Greek afterlife) forever. And plenty of people nowadays believe the very same thing: When you die, you go to heaven and live with God and the angels. Maybe even become an angel yourself. (Actually you don’t; they’re another species. It’s like imagining you go to heaven and become ponies. I know; now you wanna become a pony. Stop that.) But the last thing people want is to get put back in a body—it sounds so limiting.

Likewise in Jesus being God. Most people easily accept the idea of Jesus being a great man, or moral teacher. Some are okay with him being divine—but only if it’s true we can become divine just like he did. Actually we can become perfect like him, and that’s one of God’s goals. But Jesus didn’t become God; he was God long before he ever became human. Jn 1.1 But if we can’t believe this, it’s hard to accept the rest.

This is where faith comes in. Faith is simply another word for trust: We trust Jesus. We take his word for it that everything he teaches is true. We figure, “I’m not sure I believe all of this. Or any of it. But I’m gonna try it and see what happens. If there’s anything to it, stuff’s gonna happen. I’ll hear God talk to me. I’ll see him do miracles. If there’s not, if it’s all rubbish, nothing will happen, nothing’ll change; it’ll fall apart. So here goes nothing.” And we take the leap.

And stuff happens. Try it. You’ll see.

Altar calls: Come on down!

by K.W. Leslie, 24 October
ALTAR 'ɔl.tər noun. A table or block used as the focus for a religious ritual, particularly offerings or ritual sacrifices to a deity.
2. In Christianity, the table used to hold the elements for holy communion.
3. In some churches, the stage, the steps to the stage, or the space in front of the stage, where people go as a sign of commitment.

During our worship services, sometimes Christians are invited to leave our seats and come forward to the stage. It’s called an altar call.

Thing is, we’re not sure how the term originated. ’Cause the stage, or the front of the stage, wasn’t called an altar back then. The altar was the communion table. My guess is people were originally instructed to gather by the communion table. In a lot of churches, that altar is front and center; in the church I went to as a child, it was right in front of the preacher’s podium.

But when evangelists held rallies, whether at a concert hall, sports arena, outdoor stadium, theater, high school gym, or grade school cafeteria, or any venue where there is no communion table, they’d say “Come to the altar” anyway. Force of habit, I guess. So people came forward… and assumed something around there was the altar. The stage, perhaps.

You realize when we don’t clearly define things for the people of our churches, people just guess. And guess wrong. It’s why so many Christians don’t know what a soul is. Hence many new Christians have guessed the stage is the altar, so the word has evolved to mean a stage too. As if the people on stage are our ritual sacrifice to God. (Considering how some of them mangle the scriptures, some butchering is apparently still part of our services. But I’ll stop the ranting there.)

Anyway, altar calls used to generally be for people who wished to become Christian. The evangelist would invite ’em forward, and a pastor or elder would lead ’em in the sinner’s prayer. In many churches this is still true; it’s the only reason they have altar calls. “Come lay down your life at the altar,” is the idea: Submit to God, accept his salvation, let Jesus be your Lord, and let him make your life more abundant.

The altar call began as a dramatic way for people to visibly demonstrate they repented and were turning to God. They didn’t do altar calls in the bible though. John the baptist and the first Christians preferred baptism. But nowadays, churches expect you to go through some sort of baptism class first, so the altar call became an acceptable Evangelical substitute: Wanna give your life to Jesus? Come forward. One of our prayer team will pray with you.

Not every church does it, of course. In really large churches it’s not practical to move masses of people to the front of the auditorium. Some churches don’t approve of the public display. Show-offs will act like they’re publicly repenting, and really they’re just trying to get attention. Certain emotionally unstable people will come forward to every altar call, and go through the whole ritual time and again: They’ll repent, they’ll get prayed over, they’ll have a nice cathartic cry… and they’ll come back next week and do it all over again. Do they ever actually repent? Maybe. But really they’re there for the emotional release.

So if they don’t do altar calls, they do something like it: “If you haven’t yet received Jesus, meet us in the fellowship hall after the service,” or “Come talk to me about it later.” It’s a lot less emotional… which they prefer, ’cause it means people put some thought into turning to Jesus, instead of letting their emotions sway them. Speaking for myself, I don’t care whether it’s an emotional or thoughtful response; either can take. Likewise people can rethink, then turn their back on, either response. The important thing is we have some venue where people can turn to Jesus.

We’re not the only ones who do grace, y’know.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 August

Scott Hoezee told this story in his 1996 book The Riddle of Grace.

The story is told that, many years ago, a conference was convened to discuss the study of comparative religions. Theologians and experts from various fields of religious studies gathered from all over the world to tackle certain knotty questions relating to Christianity and its similarities or dissimilarities to other faiths. One particularly interesting seminary was held to determine whether there was anything unique about the Christian faith. A number of Christianity’s features were put on the table for discussion. Was it the incarnation? No; other religions also had various versions of the gods coming down in human form. Might it be the resurrection? No, various versions of the dead rising again were found in other faiths as well.

On and on the discussion went without any resolution in sight. At some point, after the debate had been underway for a time, C.S. Lewis wandered in late. Taking his seat, he asked a colleague, “What’s the rumpus about?” and was told that they were seeking to find Christianity’s unique trait among the world religions. In the straightforward, no-nonsense, commonsense approach that was to make Lewis famous, he immediately said, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” As the other scholars thought about that for a moment, they concluded that Lewis was right: It is grace. No other religion had ever made the ultimate acceptance by the Almighty so absolutely unconditional. In other faiths, there is usually some notion of earning points. Whether it was karma, Buddhist-like steps among the path to serenity, or some similar system, the idea was that to receive the favor of the gods one had to earn the favor of the gods.

Not in Christianity, at least not in true Christianity. Hoezee 41-42

Philip Yancey was so impressed by it, he retold the story in his 1997 book What’s So Amazing About Grace? which is where I first heard it. Hoezee says he heard it from Peter Kreeft, in a speech Kreeft gave at Calvin College. I’ve no doubt he did.

Too bad it’s gotta be bunk though.

Told to make C.S. Lewis sound clever. Smarter than those religion experts, who somehow never read anything G.K. Chesterton wrote about the uniqueness of Christian grace. But Lewis, and any religion scholar who’s not a chauvinistic ninny, would know full well grace is found in other religions.

Grace is in Judaism, ’cause grace is all over the Old Testament. The LORD rescued the Hebrews from Egypt, not because they were a great and deserving people who merited salvation, but purely out of his love. Dt 7.7-8 The LORD gave them Palestine, not because they deserved it, but because he promised it to Abraham and their ancestors. Dt 9.5 We make the same mistake Pharisees did, and confuse the Law with the foundation of their faith. But the foundation is Abraham—who trusted the LORD, and the LORD graciously considered his faith to be righteousness. Ge 15.6

Grace is in Islam. Those whose only experiences with Islam is with its legalists, assume it’s not. They assume Muslims struggle to follow Islam’s rules because it’s how they earn heaven. It’s not. Muslims are quick to remind people we can follow the rules perfectly, yet still not know whether you attain heaven, ’cause heaven has nothing to do with the rules. Only God decrees who’s going to heaven or not, and it’s entirely based on his grace. The Quran begins, Bismi Allahi alrrahmani alrraheemi, “In God’s name—most gracious, most merciful.” Muslim prayers regularly address him this way. They’re continual reminders of his grace.

Grace is even found in Hinduism. Karma only gets people so far, y’know. But Hinduism’s gods can be appealed to, intervene, and push people ahead a little further. Apparently they can be gracious.

That’s the thing: Scratch the surface of every religion, and you’ll find despite any legalism they might have, they also have grace to grease the wheels. Otherwise their wheels can’t turn.

Nope, Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on mercy, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, and grace. In fact many’s the time Christians don’t practice these things… and other religions do, and frustrated Christians see this, quit Jesus, and go try those other religions.

Yeah, I’ve heard many a Christian apologist claim we’re the only ones who do grace. We’d sure like to think so, wouldn’t we? But we make that claim only when we don’t know squat about other religions. (Or we hope our debate opponents don’t know squat—and lying to win such debates is evil, Dt 5.20 so don’t do that.)

Jesus gave every Christian a mission.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 February

And missionaries are the only ones who follow through.

MISSIONARY 'mɪ.ʃə.nɛ.ri noun. Person sent on a religious assignment, namely to spread Christianity in another place.

Jesus ordered his students to tell the whole world about his kingdom, and go make him more students. Mt 28.19-20 By πάντα τὰ ἔθνη/pánta ta éthni, every ethnicity (KJV “all the nations”), our Lord really did mean everyone. So Christians obediently have.

Well, some of us. Most of us don’t bother.

Because we tell ourselves that’s a specialized job. One for people who’ve to have a God-experience: Jesus personally spoke to them, or appeared to them, and made us one of his apostles. Only then can we go to other lands and tell the locals about Jesus.

Meanwhile we pray the Moses Prayer…

Exodus 4.13 NLT
But Moses again pleaded, “Lord, please! Send anyone else.”

…and avoid anything where Jesus might show up, where we can no longer avoid him or explain him away, where he might actually tell us to obey him already. ’Cause the commission to tell the world about his kingdom isn’t just for apostles. It’s for every Christian. EVERY. CHRISTIAN. And if we’re not doing it, we’ve no business calling ourselves Christian.

But because the bulk of Christians aren’t doing it, we have a designation for Christians who actually obey Jesus: Missionary. This is the tiny minority who obey Jesus.

Most of us do it a little here, a little there. We go on a missions trip for a week or two, pitch in at another church, and use that church as a base from which we can go into the nearby communities and share Jesus. You know, like Barnabas and Paul and their teams did in Acts. It doesn‘t have to be in a foreign country; y’notice Paul doesn’t appear to have ever left the Roman Empire. But there’s something about foreign visitors which really gets the locals’ attention. So by all means take advantage of this interesting trait in human nature, and go share Jesus in some foreign countries.

Some Christians do these mission trips as a career. They travel the world, visiting country after country, connecting with local churches everywhere—or if there isn’t one, helping to get one off the ground. Again, like Barnabas and Paul in Acts.

Some travel to only one country, and plant a church there. Weirdly, we tend to call them “missionaries,” and the folks who do the Barnabas/Paul type stuff “traveling evangelists.” Not that the church planters aren’t just as much missionaries! And not that Jesus doesn’t frequently send people to do exactly as they’re doing. He gives Christians all sorts of specific missions.

But the general mission he gave to every Christian, the one we call the Great Commission, is this one:

Matthew 28.18-20 KWL
18 Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “Every power in heaven and earth is given to me!
19 So go disciple every people-group:
Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
20 and teach them to stick to everything I’ve commanded you.
And look, I’m with you every day—till this age is over.”

Have we got to every people-group yet? No? Then let’s get cracking.

You must be born again.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 December

What “born again” means to pagans and Christians.

BORN AGAIN bɔrn ə'ɡɛn verb. Become Christian.
2. Convert to a stronger faith in, and a more personal relationship with, Christ Jesus.
3. Become a zealous [or overzealous] Christian.
4. noun: A Christian who underwent one of the above experiences.

Certain Christians insist you’re not a real Christian unless you’ve been “born again.”

These same Christians look at me funny whenever I talk about Christians who weren’t born again: “There’s no such thing,” they say. Actually there are: Some of us grew up Christian. From as far back as we can remember, we were raised to believe in Jesus and follow him, so we did. We went straight from childhood faith (where you trust Jesus because you’re told to) to personal faith (where you individually choose to trust Jesus) without any abrupt born-again experience at all. It was seamless… well, if there is a seam, Jesus knows where it is, but we don’t.

For me there was a born-again experience; I was a little kid, but I nonetheless chose to trust and follow Jesus. I’m aware there was a time before that when I didn’t. (I’m also aware there were times after that when I didn’t, but that’s because I’m a sinner, not because I’m not Christian.) But my experience, believe it or don’t, is actually atypical. Most Christians have never had a come-to-Jesus moment where they abruptly switched from paganism to Christendom. More often they phase into Christianity. They gradually believe. Or, like those who grew up Christian, they always believed.

So why do these born-again Christians make such a big deal about becoming born again?

Bluntly, bad theology. These folks were taught if we lack a born-again experience, we aren’t actually Christian. They were taught the way we know we’re Christian isn’t by the fact we produce good fruit, like Jesus taught; it’s by the fact we said the sinner’s prayer and were born again. They point to praying the sinner’s prayer as proof of salvation. It’s not. Not even close. Anybody can pray a version of the sinner’s prayer, and be pretty sure we it at the time, but if we’ve no relationship with Jesus thereafter, we didn’t mean it. Sad to say, there are a lot of fruitless Christianists who think they’re born again, but their works show they’re not.

If you’re fruitless, whether you’ve said a sinner’s prayer or not, you do need to be born again, and I recommend you get right on that. Repent, turn to Jesus, get forgiven, receive the Holy Spirit, start following him, and produce good fruit. Till then, it doesn’t matter what you imagine you remember of a born-again experience. If it didn’t turn you into a Christ-follower, it didn’t take. Do it again.

And if you are a Christ-follower already, you don’t need another born-again experience. You’re good.

Everybody got that?

Convincing people they’re not all that good.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 July

Ray Comfort likes this particular evangelism trick apologetics argument. He didn’t invent it though; I’ve heard it from lots of people. Whenever he’s talking Christianity with someone, he’ll ask them, “Do you consider yourself a good person?”

In my experience, a number of people will actually answer no. Sometimes because they actually don’t consider themselves good people; their karmic balance leans way too far on the bad side of the scale. Sometimes because they’re just being contrary; they don’t know what’s coming next, but they anticipate you want ’em to say yes, so they’re preemptively throwing a monkey wrench into things. And sometimes they do know what‘s coming next, and definitely wanna sabotage it. But in order to keep this article moving, let’s say they answered yes.

PAGAN. “Yeah, I’m a pretty good person.”
APOLOGIST. [stifling that grin you get when they take the bait] “So if you stand before God on Judgment Day, he’ll be okay with you and let you in?”
PAGAN. “Probably.”
APOLOGIST. “You don’t have anything he still needs to forgive you for?”
PAGAN. “Like what?”
APOLOGIST. “Like sins. Have you ever sinned?”
PAGAN. “Well I haven’t murdered anyone.”
APOLOGIST. “That’s the only sin you can think of?”
PAGAN. “Well okay, there’s lying, cheating, stealing, stuff like that.”
APOLOGIST. “Right. God lists commandments about that in the bible, like the Ten Commandments. The bible says when you break one, it’s like you broke all of them. Jm 2.10-11 So have you ever lied?”
PAGAN. “Yeah.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever cheated on your taxes?”
PAGAN. “No.”
APOLOGIST. “So you paid your taxes when you bought something out-of-state over the internet?”
PAGAN. “Okay maybe I cheated on my taxes.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever stolen anything, like downloading a movie off the internet, or a paperclip from work?”
PAGAN. “Probably.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever lusted for somebody? The bible says that’s the same as adultery. Mt 5.27 That’s a sin.”
PAGAN. “Seriously? The bible’s strict.”
APOLOGIST. “Yes it is. It says if you hate someone that’s the same as murder. Mt 5.21-22 So, ever fantasized about murdering anyone?”
PAGAN. “Yeah, but that’s not really murder.”
APOLOGIST. “The bible says it’s just as bad, and still a sin. Like you said, the bible’s really strict. Ever taken the Lord’s name in vain?—that actually doesn’t mean cursing, but you swore to God you’d do something, and didn’t?”
PAGAN. “Yeah, I did.”
APOLOGIST. “Ever been envious of your neighbor’s house or car or wife? That‘s coveting; that’s a sin too.”
PAGAN.That’s a sin?”
APOLOGIST. “That’s a sin. God considers all these things sins, all of them violations of commands where he told people to never do them. So, do you have anything God still needs to forgive you for?”
PAGAN. “Guess so.”
APOLOGIST. “Well he wants to forgive you. But you have to ask for forgiveness.”

And from there, a brief explanation about how God made it so everyone can be forgiven and saved, a bit of the sinner’s prayer, and you’ve won another soul for God’s kingdom. And all the angels in heaven rejoiced. Lk 15.10

The instigator?

by K.W. Leslie, 16 April

Why I keep winding up in conversations with strangers about Jesus.

I have a lot of stories in which I’m talking with strangers about Jesus, Christianity, the church, and so forth.

Because of this, y’might get the wrong idea about me—that I’m the one initiating these conversations. That I’m one of those evangelists on the prowl. You know the type of person: If they’re not selling Jesus, they’re selling something, be it cars or timeshares or herbal supplements. In their case they just happen to be pitching salvation.

You’ve met ’em when you were minding your own business at the coffeehouse, nursing a mocha and trying to get a grip on the day. Suddenly one of these yahoos nudges into your “me time” and tries to talk about the eternal destination of your immortal soul. Like you’re ready for deep stuff at that point in your day.

But nope, this isn’t me.

You can probably tell I don’t care for that type of evangelist. I don’t care for that type of salesperson either. Likely neither do you. I’m fine with them on the street corners or outside the grocery stores, asking permission to pitch their ideas, sign their petitions, or buy their Girl Scout cookies. I expect ’em there; I’m fine with them there; sometimes I look for them there when I’m in the mood for Thin Mints.

I’m not fine with them when they’re trying to sell me Jesus in the coffeehouse. And I don’t do that to people either. Ten times out of ten I’m also minding my own business.

Since I’m not a sociopath, I’ll be friendly and accommodating to others: No I’m not in line; yes you can take that extra chair; let me step aside so you can reach the half and half; yes that is a 20-year-old iBook I’m typing on and no it doesn’t get wifi anymore; yes you have seen me somewhere around town before; excuse me but your phone is catching fire.

They strike up the conversations. And since Jesus takes up a significant chunk of my life, if they ask about my life they’re gonna hear about Jesus.

That’s all I do. That’s all anyone need do.

Sharing Jesus and sucky Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 January

If we make lousy representatives of Jesus, we’re often extra hesitant to share him with others.

There’s a popular saying among Christians, attributed to Ragamuffin Gospel author Brennan Manning:

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

It’s popular among wannabe-devout Christians, ’cause it lets us point the finger at irreligious Christians and say, “See, it’s their fault.” (And so much for grace.) But is it true? Has anybody bothered to poll nontheists and ask ’em, “Is that why you struggle to believe in God? Because of Christians who won’t act like Christ?” Have we sought to find out if there’s anything to it? Or is it too comfortable and appealing a “truth” to question?

I mean yeah, irreligious Christians need to shape up and stop treating God’s grace so cheaply. Duh. But I’m loath to park the blame for all the unbelievers in the world upon them. I’ve dealt with nontheists long enough to know better. The reason they don’t believe is ’cause they don’t wanna believe. All their reasons are after-the-fact excuses. Because that’s what humans do. We start with the hypothesis, then pick and choose any evidence which backs it. “The facts speak for themselves” only after we’ve thrown away any facts we don’t like.

Misbehaving Christians have nothing to do with nontheism. Anyone who tells you different, has an ax to grind against misbehaving Christians.

I certainly do, ’cause I used to be one of those misbehaving Christians. I grind an ax against my former self all the time. I tell on all the sins he committed, and use him for illustrations of what not to do. Many Christians do likewise with their former selves: We can do it with impunity, and not appear cruel. ’Cause it’d look totally cruel if we used, say, one of our kids as an example of what not to do. Or some other Christian in some other denomination.

I was a rotten kid in my youth. And yeah, I shared Jesus with people. But I actually got a few of ’em to come to church with me. Despite me. ’Cause that’s how the Holy Spirit works: He takes seriously messed-up humans, and does something good through us. He can, and does, use irreligious Christians to spread his gospel. I know from personal experience as one of those irreligious Christians.

That said, is it ideal when irreligious Christians share the gospel? Of course not. Got way easier to share the gospel when I started to act like Jesus. People don’t mind hearing the good news from good people. But when you’re kind of a dick, the good news doesn’t tend to come across as all that good. Too much hellfire, not enough grace. Too much hate; no love. Too likely to become dark Christianity, dark evangelism, and proselytism. Too likely to reproduce all those bad traits, like Jesus complained about the Pharisees doing with their converts. Mt 23.15

No; ideally we want fruitful Christians to exhibit all the same winsome traits as our Master: Love, kindness, patience, forgiveness, grace, compassion, peace, and joy. Because we’re trying to duplicate that in new believers; not the same fake fruit we find among Christianists, who’ve taken the place of Pharisees in that they’re creating the “sons of hell” nowadays.

Don’t misunderstand me. Irreligious Christians need to repent. But can they share Jesus, his gospel, and his kingdom? Of course they can. God’s used talking asses before, Nu 22.26-30 and apparently he still does.

“Train up a child…”

by K.W. Leslie, 23 October

Proverbs 22.6.

This particular proverb, best known in the King James version—

Proverbs 22.6 KJV
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

—has brought a lot of comfort to a lot of Christians whose kids don’t appear to be going anywhere close to the way they should go.

After high school, a lot of the kids from my church youth group didn’t stay in church. Some of us did, and some of us went away to school… and the rest decided since they were adults now, they could choose to go to church or not. So they chose not. To the great consternation of their parents, who thought they raised their kids better than that. They really didn’t.

In despair, the parents turned to this proverb. The way they chose to interpret it: Yeah, the kids had quit Jesus, but the parents had trained ’em up in the way they should go. They’d raised ’em Christian. Took ’em to church. Made ’em pray before meals. Sent ’em to church camps and youth groups and youth pastors who’d tell them about Jesus. Voiced their political opinions, and they’re pretty sure Jesus feels exactly the same way they do. It wasn’t disciplined, focused, intentional, or systematic, but they did kinda lay the groundwork for the kids to come back.

So if the proverb is a promise—and that’s precisely how they cling to it—the kids will one day see the error of their ways, repent, and return to the values they were raised with. The kids’ll go through a brief period of rebellion, their own personal rumspringa, but when they’re old—hopefully not that old—they’ll be back.

The “out of context” header might’ve tipped you off to the fact this view is entirely incorrect. Lot of blind optimism behind it. Lot of wishful thinking. But doesn’t usually happen. I still know quite a few of those youth group kids, now in their 40s, same as me. Still not Christian. Some of ’em think they are, but really they’re just Christianist. Others are “spiritual, not religious,” or joined another religion like Buddhism, or went nontheist.

There are a lot of non-practicing Christians who slide back into Christianity as soon as they have kids: They realize they’ve gotta pass down their morals to their children, and since they have none, they go with Jesus’s… and realize they don’t know his morals as well as they thought, so they go to church to rectify that. Which is great, ’cause it’s what gets young families into the church, and young families help keep a church stable. But my youth group’s former kids? If that was gonna gonna get ’em back into church, it’d’ve happened when they were in their 20s and 30s. It didn’t. They’re still out.

Their parents are likely clinging to the fact the proverb says, “When he is old,” but let’s get real: It’s not happening at this rate. Only way it would, is if the Holy Spirit intervenes with a major course correction. Which he can always do, so never rule out the possibility. It’s just a lot of these drastic actions still don’t convince people to return to Jesus. When a major life trauma (i.e. loss of a job, death of a relative, health crisis, natural or artificial disaster) impacts our lives, people either take a hard left towards God, or a hard right away from him. And since away is the path of least resistance, that’s usually the route they choose.

Does this mean the proverb isn’t true then? Nope, that’s not the problem. The real problem is people are using it completely wrong.

“I stand at the door and knock.”

by K.W. Leslie, 05 October

Revelation 3.20.

Revelation 3.20 KJV
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

This’d be Jesus speaking.

When I was a little kid, I was told Jesus lives in my heart.

I didn’t then understand the difference between one’s physical heart, the blood-pumping muscle/organ in one’s chest; and the spiritual heart, the center of one’s soul. That “Jesus lives in my heart” means Jesus takes priority over all. Arguably the spiritual heart is a metaphor, and Jesus living in it is definitely a metaphor. You wanna talk persons of the trinity who live in you, look to the Holy Spirit.

But you know how literal-minded a kid can be. Tell ’em “Jesus lives in your heart,” and they’ll wonder whether there’s a little tiny Jesus, physically inside their chests. And of course that’s not what they meant. Or at least I surely hope that’s not what they meant; you never know about some adults.

I was told Jesus lives in my heart because I let him in there. ’Cause for those who don’t have Jesus in their hearts, he’s standing at the door of these hearts, knocking. (Unless you’re Calvinist, in which case you believe Jesus already has the key, and comes in whenever he darn well feels like it. Yet some of ’em still talk about Jesus knocking on our hearts’ doors.) Anyway, won’t you let him in?

And of course kids would let him in. Who’s gonna leave Jesus outside, all alone, forced to live in our pancreas instead? Why, he might get attacked by our antibodies. Or get digested; won’t that be embarrassing.

Silliness aside, anyone who’s read Revelation 3 knows this passage isn’t about evangelism. It’s not an invitation to pagans, but Christians.

Sheep-stealing: “Hey, those were our sheep!”

by K.W. Leslie, 31 May

Since all the sheep belong to Jesus, what’s the real problem?

Sheep-stealing /'ʃip stil.ɪŋ/ vt. Getting a Christian to leave their church and join yours.
[Sheep-stealer /'ʃip stil.ər/ n.]

My sister and I live in the same town. I’m a member of a small church. She’s a member of another, larger church.

When people hear this, sometimes they respond, “Aww. Why don’t you go to the same church? You should be worshiping together.”

Well, sometimes we do. Sometimes I visit her church. Once, she and her family visited mine. Our churches aren’t in competition, y’know. Mine may be in a denomination and hers isn’t, but both churches belong to Jesus: They’re both outposts of God’s kingdom.

Why don’t we go to the same church? Various reasons. Initially it was because I was giving the churches in my denomination a try before settling on one… and this one fit. (Once it wasn’t, so I hung with the Baptists a few years.) If I had to switch churches, I don’t think it’d be too big a stretch to switch to hers, but I fit better here.

And my church lets me minister. Whereas her church already has plenty of ministers. They don’t need me. Don’t need her either. She and her husband used to help in their area of expertise, music. They were eventually told their help wasn’t wanted.

If I were told that, I’d go find someplace I was wanted; but that’s me. I told ’em my church was looking for musicians. Of course my church, being small, would definitely try to rope ’em into ministering every week, and they’d prefer once a month. (That’s what they’re currently doing: They help out at a friend’s church.)

Now, some Christians would definitely take offense at my inviting them to help at my church. They’d see it as “sheep-stealing.” Because my sister and brother-in-law already have a church, already have a shepherd, and how dare I try to swipe them out from underneath their shepherd?

Um… ’cause we all have the one shepherd.

John 10.14-16 KWL
14 “I’m the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me,
15 just as my Father knows me, and I know the Father. I prioritize my life for the sheep.
16 I have other sheep who aren’t from this pen. I have to bring them here too.
They’ll hear my voice and become one flock, with one shepherd.”

Churches have shepherds, or pastors; lots of ’em. But all these pastors work for the head of every church, Christ Jesus. And when they’re jealous of one another, or compete with one another, or try to hoard resources which are meant for the whole kingdom and world, it’s wholly inappropriate. So this idea of “sheep-stealing”? Doesn’t come from the bible.

Still, some pastors get downright territorial.

Don’t just raise your kids Christian. Share Jesus with them.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 November

If you can’t talk politics yet still produce good fruit, they’re in Christ’s way. And need to go.

Some years ago I was telling a friend about some church ministry I was involved with. He then told me, with a little bit of embarrassment, he wasn’t involved in such thing in his church. Didn’t feel he could possibly find the time.

“Well that’s understandable,” I told him: “You have four kids under the age of 10. They’re your ministry. You’ve gotta make sure they know Jesus, and have a growing relationship with them. Get them solid; then worry about all the other stuff your church is doing. Then your kids will wanna do all those church things with you.”

He was a little relieved to hear me say that, ’cause he’d been kicking himself a little for not doing enough church stuff. You know how some churches can get: If you’re not giving ’em 10 hours a week, they doubt your salvation. But when Paul instructed Timothy on what sort of people oughta serve the church (or deacons, as we tend to call ’em), he pointed out, assuming they have children, the children oughta be well-behaved. 1Ti 3.12 If deacons become elders, same deal. If they can’t even raise their own kids, what good are they to raise a mature church?

So first things first. All that stuff you were hoping to do for your church?—lead music, teach Sunday school and bible classes, participate in the prayer group, contributing to charity, going on a missions trip? Do all that stuff, with your kids, first. Live out your Christianity with them, in front of them, as an example to them, long before you start doing that stuff for your church. ’Cause your first duty is to train your kids to follow your God. Dt 4.9-10 Not to just have ’em say the sinner’s prayer, then hope they pick up the rest on their own.

Sad to say, a lot of Christians prefer to do the sinners’ prayer, and little more. I know from experience. When I was in youth group, a lot of the kids knew nothing about Jesus outside of what our youth pastors told us. And that’s assuming they listened to the pastor’s lessons. They were woefully ignorant of God—but their parents figured they said the prayer, got baptized, went to church, and participated in all the same cultural Christian things they did. Doesn’t that count as raising ’em Christian?

As a result you’ve got a lot of Christians who aren’t really raising their kids Christian. At best, the kids come to Jesus in spite of their parents’ lack of attention. At worst, the kids decide their parents are hypocrites, Christianity is bogus, and turn antichrist.

And their parents, in horror and outrage, can’t imagine they’re in any way to blame for their kids’ seeming apostasy. So they look for other scapegoats: Their pagan friends. Secular schools. Youth pastors who didn’t adequately diagnose the coming problem. Evil rock music and TV programs. Satan. Anybody but themselves. Because they provided their kids a good Christian environment; how on earth could this have happened on their watch?

Easy. They didn’t watch. They assumed the environment would make their kids Christian. Environment does nothing. Discipleship does. Train your kids in the way they should go. Don’t just quote bible verses at ’em, but fail to lead by example.

“Can I pray for you?”

by K.W. Leslie, 20 September

Most people don’t mind at all if you do.

When you don’t know what to do, talk to God.

Not only is this always good advice to follow, but it’s good advice when dealing with others. When other people share their difficulties with us, we don’t always know how to respond. Prayer’s one of the best responses—if not the best, period. It’s turning to God as our first resort.

I know; plenty of people think they know just what to do when they hear someone’s troubles. That’s why they immediately offer it: Advice. No, the person sharing their woes didn’t ask for it. Often they just wanted to vent to someone. But that’s not gonna stop people from inflicting bad advice upon ’em anyway.

Remember Job’s friends? For a week he kept his mouth shut, Jb 2.13 but then he made the mistake of lamenting in front of them, Jb 3 and it opened up their floodgates of bad advice, naive statements, sorry platitudes—you know, the same stuff people still offer as advice, which just goes to show they’ve never really read Job. It pissed the LORD off, ’cause nothing they said about him was correct. Jb 42.7 Like I said, shoulda gone to him first.

Me, I try to keep the unsolicited advice to a minimum. If you want it, I’ll offer it, with the usual disclaimer that I’m hardly infallible. But really, the best response is, “Can I pray for you?”

And when we offer to pray for them, let’s not do the similar platitudinous “I’ll pray for you.” Mostly because among Christianists, “I’ll pray for you” means one of two things:

  • “I’m really offended by what you just said. Go to hell. No, wait; I need to sound Christian. ‘I’ll pray for you.’ Yeah, that’s the ticket.”
  • “Oh Lord, I don’t care about all your miserable problems. I’ve got my own stuff to deal with. How do I get out of this dreary conversation? ‘I’ll pray for you.’ Good; now I can leave.”

It’s seldom based on sympathy.

Well, don’t be one of those unsympathetic jerks. If you’re offering to pray for them, no time like the present. Stand right there and pray. Doesn’t need to be a long prayer; doesn’t need to be perfect words. Just needs to be you, telling God to help ’em out.